Even as we’re still reveling what seems to and endless stream of big budge genre movies, many of the major releases of the summer have already coming out, leaving a little breathing room for smaller pictures to start to get some attention. Lacking the big-money and big names stars of their celluloid cousins, these movies are traditionally schlock horror, monster movies, or cerebral crime pictures. Or at least they have been for the last few years. But I’ve noticed that there’s been a sudden resurgence in mid-budget science fiction films.

There have, of course, been these kinds of movies almost since the cameras have started turning. These are the films that supplied television with a constant stream of crap that led the way to the post-modern wonderland that we inhabit today. From the Saturday Matinee Movie, the Late Late Late Show, all the way to their final resting place on Mystery Science Theater 3000. But that wellspring seems to have dried up since the early 90s. Outside of a constant stream of terrible direct-to-video films appearing on the Sci-Fi channel our screens seem to have been devoid of the kind of mid-budget techno-action movie that used to be a staple of the cinematic underground. In some ways it was these “cult classics” that were responsible for their own demise, creating a generation of fans that elevated the genre movie to the top of the box office heap, and kept it there for the last three decades.

Of course, even after Star Wars, the 80s were a golden era of the sci-fi crapfest. Films like I Come in Peace, and Cyborg, kept Dolph Lundgren and Jean-Claude Van Damme employed for the last half of the decade.

They were some diamonds in the dirt as well. Films like The Hidden, and Near Dark are still worth watching today.

But the mid-budget sci-fi picture had vanished from the big screen as it became more and more commonplace on television. Did a world with Stargate, Farscape, Star Trek, Firefly, and Andromeda need a modern day equivalent of the Running Man? There were some exceptions, but they were few and far between, and all of them seem to star Christian Bale.

There’s something that I love about these films. Maybe it’s the way that their reach constantly, and shamelessly, outstrips their grasp. Or that they often mix highbrow ideas with lowbrow action.

Well despair no more. Because it seems like they’re back:

Vikings vs. Alien invaders? Led by an alien alien-hunter?  Seriously? Golan-Globus couldn’t come up with this kind of stuff. Also note the key ingredient of the second tier British actor, bringing some faux authority to the proceedings.

Paul W.S. Anderson, the director that the internet loves to hate, is also heading into the second tier sweepstakes. In a remake of Death Race, he mashes up the original movie with the Running Man to create a dystopian smash and crash picture. His film is actually coming out this summer:

If I had to pick a single movie that marks the beginning of the new trend I’d call it at Doomsday, directed by Neil Marshall. He’s gracefully made the transition from horror to sci-fi with a film that manages to try and shoehorn Outbreak and Mad Max into the same story. Bob Hoskins provides the fauxthority in this one:

But I’ve saved the best for last. When it comes to the apocalypse nobody stages one quite like Eastern Europe. Their dour negative attitude, and crumbled opulence is perfect for the mix of sturm and drang with a side of grand guignol. Consequently it’s a great place to shoot your apocalyptic epic on the cheap.

To that end, we have The Mutant Chronicles. Based on a roleplaying game, this film is poised to be so over the top that it leaves the rest of them in the dust. John Malkovich does the requisite slumming in this picture, proving that you don’t need to be English to burn gravitas:

 

Hopefully one or more of these films will be more than the sum of it’s parts, ushering us into a new age of glorious terribleness. It’s certainly a very good start.

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